Another game, another loss and the Rockets are off to an extremely bad 0-3 start in the season. To make matters worse, this was our home opener and the Nuggets team was very beatable. Our defense finally stepped up to the challenge, holding the Nuggets to just 38% from the field but our poor three-point shooting coupled with our recurring problems with turnovers and second-chance points once again meant that the Rockets came up short against a Western Conference rival.
As witnessed in Game 1, the Houston backcourt is pretty explosive and we will be extremely reliant on them to score points, especially with Yao’s limited minutes. What we saw today is what happens when our backcourt is having a bad shooting night–apart from a valiant effort from Luis Scola, no one really got going. Aaron Brooks and Kevin Martin combined for 10 of 27 shooting and hit only 2 shots from downtown in 11 attempts. The rest of the team wasn’t that good from three-point range, either, with the Rockets shooting an abysmal 16% from downtown. The Nuggets, though shooting a low percentage from the field, ended up outscoring us 33 points from the free throw line and three-point line, which was the difference between the two ball clubs.
The game was close all the way through, with Houston managing to keep the lead for most of the minutes until we got to crunch time. A J.R. Smith three pointer with 4 seconds left on the clock in the 3rd quarter broke the game open for the Nuggets as they went up by three going into the fourth quarter. A quick run in the fourth quarter forced separation from the Rockets and we could never pull back quite enough.
Luis Scola continues to be an absolute beast both in the paint and on the glass and he is quickly making a lot of people look stupid for their comments about the Rockets overpaying him in his blockbuster contract in the offseason. Scola works hard every single possession and is one of the few big men in the NBA who runs the floor every time. He’s recorded his third straight double-double of the season and had 28 points and 10 boards tonight and was one of the few Rockets with good shooting numbers. In my first two game recaps, I’ve stressed that Martin and Brooks are our first two scoring options, but I think I do need to re-assess that a bit and give Scola his due. After shaking off the rust in the first couple of games, where he was missing wide open lay-ups, he’s looked like our only consistent scorer with his array of hooks, scoops and fakes in the paint. I’d be surprised if teams didn’t begin scouting the Rockets by identifying his weaknesses, since we could probably be shut out if Scola doesn’t grab his 20-10 every night.
I thought Yao Ming had his best game of the season thus far. He ended up scoring 14 points in the 22 minutes he spent out on the floor today and abused the Nuggets front court early in the game. George Karl adjusted his game plan well, however, and Yao was largely ineffective in the second half, with Melo double-teaming as soon as the pass was made to him. He continues to improve, however, and should be in as good rhythm as we can expect from him in a few more games.
Kyle Lowry was also electric off the bench, not in scoring (in which he was very dull, not making a single field goal) but in running our break and finding the open guys. He played 20 minutes in his first showing of the season and had 3 assists to go with 7 rebounds, which also happened to be the best for our team after Scola. Lowry is going to be huge for us this season if we want to put up a bunch of wins. He’s a perfect complement to Brooks (especially when AB is shooting hot) and is great on the defensive end. I can remember him drawing at least 3 charges in his few minutes out there and I’m sure there were more. If we had Lowry in the first two games, I would go as far as to suggest that we may have been up 2-0 going into this game.
Finally, I’d like to give a shout out to the referees in this game. They did a great job from the point of view of letting the game be played. It was a very physical game, especially with players driving into the paint, but the refs controlled their whistles well. That said, there were a bunch of missed calls. As a Rockets fan, I obviously only saw the ones going against us, but I can recall three missed calls off the top of my head. The first was early in the game under the Rockets basket where Yao was called for nudging the ball out whereas replays showed it went off Nene. The second was later in the game during a Lowry fast break, where the ball clearly went off a Nugget player’s foot. The third was in the fourth quarter when Carmelo changed his pivot foot! Of course, the NBA is typically very lax on actually enforcing rules such as traveling, so this wasn’t a surprise, especially since it was a player of Melo’s caliber who committed the offense. On the whole, though, I hope to see a similarly subdued performance from the referees. Nothing annoys me more than the game turning into a free throw shooting contest.
The same old culprits raise their ugly heads again: turnovers and offensive boards. We had 19 turnovers today, which is just shy off our season-opening total of 20, and what was even worse is that Denver managed to score off most of them. Our defensive rebounding once again left a lot to be desired, with the Nuggets grabbing 13 offensive boards. Once again, most of the offensive boards came courtesy of missed box outs and lazy rebounding.
Our three-point shooting was atrocious today. For a team that depends so heavily on it’s outside shooting, today was hopefully just a blip. Kevin Martin was 1 of 7 and Brooks hit one from four chances. What annoyed me more than the shots missing—every team has bad nights from downtown—was the fact that we kept shooting from downtown early in possessions. Even once we got the Nuggets into the penalty, we would be setting high screens and launching threes. With Scola pretty much having his way in the paint, we should have been taking a lot fewer shots from downtown. Although, to be fair, a lot of them were very wide open and would have fallen on other nights.
Finally, we improved our defense quite a lot. I saw a lot contested shots and good help defense. We were pretty good at guarding the paint today. However, there is still a lot of room for improvement. Al Harrington was left wide open over and over and over again. I can recall at least three wide open three pointers that he had due to good ball movement. He knocked down every single one of them en route to 5 of 8 shooting from downtown. We’re still not moving our feet well enough on defense and a good offensive club, like the Nuggets, will move the ball around enough to find an open shot.
All in all, this was another disappointing loss and we still need to get a win on the scoreboard. This team was very beatable and although the box score doesn’t demonstrate this, we played them well up until the fourth quarter. Today, it was our offense that failed to get us the win after our defense did a good job to keep the Nuggets shooting at 38% and keeping Melo quiet at 24 points. Turnovers and defensive rebounding are things we have to work on going into this next week of games. Today, the Nuggets attempted 10 more shots than us and won shooting a worse percentage than us by hitting the big shots and getting to the line.
An 0-3 start is not good for a franchise that is supposed to be in a good year, however there are still 79 long games left in the season. I was a lot more annoyed when I started this recap than right now, so hopefully my optimism is not misplaced. Our next game is at home against the New Orleans Hornets on Wednesday at the Toyota Center. We have a few days to regroup and prepare for a team that is currently at the top of our division, unbeaten with 3 wins. Here’s hoping that we fix the flaws and get our first win of the season!